Monday, June 30, 2014

Trakai, Lithuania

They said when you're in Lithuania, this place is a must-visit.  Trakai is only about 28 km away - west of Vilnius.  Trains and buses run 40-50 times between Vilnius and Trakai.  See schedule at

Locals in Vilnius (as per our hotel receptionist story) would go to Trakai - to laze around, to do some water activities or just a getaway place for a day or for the weekend.  The city was built on water and is surrounded by lakes.

The weather was not cooperating with our travel plan.  Me and my girlfriends geared up - with our jackets,umbrellas and comfy shoes (hopefully waterproof), we just can't leave LT  without visiting Trakai.

We opted to go by train for experience.  A one-way ticket costs 5.80 lt~less than 2 euros per person. We took the 740 am train - yes, it was we wanted to be back in Vilnius for some "me" the afternoon- Spa, fb/instagram/Skype-ing, or going to the food market to buy "pasalubong" (take home goodies)...ahem...I'm sure you know which among these was HT wife's "me" time. *wink*

(note spa is not cheap and you need to make reservations - they don't accept walk-in clients). 

Coffee from the vending machine (2 litas~less than a euro) was our lifesaver for our super-early-cold-and-more-than -30-minutes journey to Trakai. Note that cafes only open at 9am on weekends but around 7am on weekdays. 

Ta-dah!  We're here.  Ok, we arrived at the station and we have to do a walk-a-thon to get to Trakai Castle. (~20-30 mins).  Once you see this sign, be happy as you're almost there!

Ok not quite, we walked further with stopovers here and there for photo ops, finally, the sight of Trakai Castle astounded us.  We made it!

You can visit a lot of sites in Trakai (

We "the manangs" (our term of endearment) decided to visit the infamous Trakai Castle.

Trakai Castle can bring you back to 14th-15th century.  Built on Lake Galvé, the castle has played a big part on the historical heritage of LT.  The castle houses now the history museum.  Entrance fee costs 18 LT ~6 euros and if you want to take pictures inside the museum, you can pay extra 4 LT~1 euro.  To be honest, nobody checks whenever you do that click.  (btw, there's no point of going to early if you only wanted to visit the castle - as it opens only around 10 am )

the lovely inside court of the Trakai Castle.  (photo by SM - one of the manangs :D)

Due to several occupation and wars, it took a long time to restore the castle.  It was completed only around the 90s and the place started hosting operas and events.  In one of the rooms, you'll see a list of royalties all over the world who has visited this infamous castle.

And they said when you're in Trakai, you just can't leave without having their specialty...the Kibinai.
Kibinai - moon-shaped pie (similar to Spanish and Philippine empanada) filled with meat.  It's best eaten warm.

         on the way to the castle, an old lady was selling Kibinai.  You can get it too in cafes around Trakai.

Do take time to walk around the castle and buy your souvenirs here in Trakai as it's much cheaper than in Vilnius.  And enjoy the view!
c/o manang SM

To get back to the train station, we went the same path and did our 2nd walk-a-thon for the day.  This time we admired the colorful houses, as well as went in to some small shops that are selling rare items (antiques, paintings, etc) along the way.

love the humor...a good break after a history overload...

When we got back to Vilnius, we proceeded with our "me" time and again lots of eating and drinking our last few glasses of cheap beers before we head back to our home countries. 

Thanks again manangs for making the trip fun!  'Till our next trip!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Vilnius, Lithuania

HT wifey's first time in the Baltic states and me and my friends chose Lithuania! From Eindhoven, NL, there is a direct flight to Vilnius via Wizzair.

After 2 hours of flight, we arrived in Vilnius Airport.  There's 1 hour time difference between NL and Lithuania. (LT is one hour ahead)

Lita is Lithuania's currency.  It's best to get some litas as soon as you land even though some places do accept Euros, it's still best to use their local currency. (1 euro ~3.50 litas)

There's a number of ATM inside the airport but do take note that money comes out first before your ATM card so don't forget your card.  There's also visitors' information center where you can get maps or book a cab (~10 euros to city center though based on what i've read - there are scams just like in any other cities).  Going to the center is quite easy.  There are a couple of buses, as soon as you exit the airport (1, 2, and 88) which goes to the station (Stotis) or to the center (a ticket causes 3.50 litas~1 euro).  What I find useful is their bus website  I love how easy and convenient it is to get to the center and to go around.

We are a group of 5 and we stayed at Alexa Old town Hotel (pretty good location), which cost us 60 euros per head for 3 days.  And what's best with this location is we're near the Hale Market (Hales Turgus) where fresh meat, smoked meat (Lithuania is famous for) and cheap vegetables and fruits are being sold.  We got half a kilo of strawberries for less than a euro and half a kilo of cherries for less than 2 euros.

 First stop was the Gates of Dawn.  This is the entry to the Old Town.  We got lost a bit as coming from the left, this gate looks like a church with entrance.  And we're all women so you know that some time, somehow, somewhere, our bad sense of direction would kicked in altogether and ta-dah, we were going the wrong direction.  But that added to the fun going around Vilnius. 

As soon as you enter the old town, you'll be amazed with the colorful and lovely architecture.

Unwinding road...

look to the left, look to the right, every building is just beautiful.
city hall
The Town Hall square is a nice place to lounge - grab a drink and enjoy the wonderful view.  Another thing i like about Vilnius is that there's not much tourist and stress free.  On weekends, cafes only open at 9 am.
 Of course, any HT wifey's travel would not be complete without food!  Walking along the old town towards Pilies Street- we decided to grab traditional Lithuanian food in a place called Forto Dvaras - do get a table at the basement as the ambiance brings you back to the old times.
A glass of beer is a must in this side of Europe.  This beer starts with a 'B', sorry I forgot to take down it's actual name and it's the best beer we had in the whole trip therefore, it's worth mentioning. 
There are lots of microbreweries and bars that carry local beer.  I'm not a fan of beers especially when the weather is cold (unfortunately at this time of the year - June - the sun was still aloof here in Vilnius or we were just unlucky).

Cepelinai - a national dish - a sort of dumpling made of riced potatoes and potato starch filled with minced meat.  And what makes it delicious is the sour cream with cracklings.  Don't be shocked if you're served sour cream on the side, anywhere.  Forget about the calories and go local.  (They do have a pan-fried version which also looks good)
Šaltibarščiai - cold Borscht - cold beetroot soup.  I thought i wouldn't like it but it was indeed refreshing.  This version had lots of shallots which balances out the sweet and sour taste of beetroot which made it more savory.

 Blood Pudding - again with sour cream and crackling bits.
And when in Lithuania - you must eat meat.  Roast Bacon with beetroot and horseradish.  This wa yummy.
We ordered more items like beef plate, another set of dumplings but I suggest to skip them and maybe try their other potato dishes or soup instead.  And with the amount of food and drinks we ordered - the damage was only 50 euros for 5 pax.  It's quite cheap considering how full we were.
To burn those calorie intake, climb the Gediminas tower and enjoy the lovely view from the top.

 Vilnia River

Lithuania being predominantly Roman Catholics - beautiful churches are everywhere.  But a must-see church in Vilnius is the famous St. Anne.  It's brick gothic architecture makes it unique.

Behind St. Anne is another church - St. Francis and Bernardine.  There were lots of baptism being held when we visited the church.

Visiting the cathedral is a norm whenever we would visit a place.  It's modern and situated in a square facing the Gedimino pr.  (shopping street).  
 Uzupis is a republic of artist- one of the oldest district in Vilnius. They have their own constitution.  It's like Christiana in Copenhagen or Monmartre in Paris.  We only explored the place only up to the bronze angel in a square as it was cold and we're getting hungry as we only had light breakfast.
 As soon as you see the logo when you passed by the bridge  - yes, you're in Uzupis.

love locks on bridges are a fad nowadays. Good thing that Vilnius is not yet as touristy as Paris therefore, the bridge is still safe from falling apart.
Walk all the way the Gedemino pr. (shopping street) and you'll reach the must-visit in Vilnius, the Genocide museum.  This is situated in the former Gestapo/KGB building during the WW2 and the Soviet occupation which lasted until 1991.  Take time to go around the exposition which gave honor to their countrymen who fought for their independence.  Go to the basement which was a prison and where the prisoners were executed.  I got goosebumps - just reading and just looking into the rooms.  You pay a minimal entrance fee and we were surprised that it was for free on the day of our visit but never knew why.  They don't speak much English and your only bet if you need something is to ask teenagers.
After all the walking,culture and history, we decided to start filling up our tummies again.  We decided to go to Cili Pica which is a restaurant chain that you can see in almost every corner.
This place started selling pizza, but now it's more than just  a pizza place.
Bulviniai blynai - potato pancakes is also typical Lithuanian.  The plate we got is with salmon, cottage cheese and again sour cream :D.  This is my favorite Lithuanian dish.
 yes, another beer!
Gira - a local fermented drink made of rye bread.  It's non-alcoholic and I can't describe how it taste but a must try when you're in LT.
I'm loving it here!  Check out our day 2!  Post to follow...